Article by Dara Molloy
Jubilee 2000 is an idea that was promoted by Martin Dent, a retired British university professor, as far back as the early '90s. His idea was to link the campaign against debt to the biblical concept of Jubilee and the coming of the Millenium. His idea worked, and the Jubilee 2000 Coalition is now in operation in many European countries and in various other parts of the world. The Africa Jubilee 2000 Conference held in Accra, Ghana from the 16th to the 19th of April 1998 was an attempt to bring this campaign to Africa and to set up an African Coalition.
I was a member of a 12-person delegation from Europe organised through Kairos Europa and partially funded by the EU. Most of the delegation were members of the African diaspora living in Europe. My presence was requested in my role as chairman of Kairos Europa (1) and also as editor of The AISLING Magazine (2) which campaigns on the debt issue.
I write personally. This was my first time in a so-called 'Third-World' country, and my first time in Africa. My home is Ireland, itself a country that suffered from colonialism for 800 years. However, Ireland now is the 11th richest country in the world, according to the latest OECD report. I cannot easily explain how we moved, in a 150 years, from being a country where half the population died or emigrated from the effects of famine and extreme poverty to a country that is now the 11th richest in the world. Perhaps we are a sign of hope to the poor nations of the world.
My first sensation on stepping from the plane was the heat. Although I anticipated this and changed into light clothes on the plane, it still came as a shock to my system. What also shocked me was to see native people suffering from the heat just as much as I did! What I began to understand gradually over my week's stay was how the heat effects the lifestyle of the people and makes it different from my own. Being naked in my own country could represent poverty and deprivation. Being semi-naked in Ghana was practical and common sensical. It struck me how the Western media can use the images of nakedness to indicate poverty when it may not be the case. What also struck me was the fact that many people slept outdoors. I saw people with mats laid out on the side of the road sleeping. This did not have the same connotations as someone 'sleeping rough' in a similar way in Ireland. Hardship experienced by the Ghanaians does not come from the weather, at least not the weather I experienced while I was there.
However, I did see hardship, and was shocked by some of what I saw. In particular, I was shocked by the amount of people, mostly young people, competing against one another for a miniscule daily income. Young people lined the streets of Accra selling whatever they could get their hands on. Normally the amount they were trying to sell, if all sold, would fetch no more than a few pounds. But if they did not sell, I presume they had no money for food. There is no social welfare in Ghana. If you don't work, you don't eat. It is hard for an Irish person accustomed to social insurance and social welfare to understand this experience of insecurity. It is also hard for me to appreciate what it would be like to live on $400 dollars a year, the average annual income. I came home from Accra to some work I had to do, and in three days had earned that $400 that for many Ghanaians must last a year.
Ghana has been independent since 1957. It now has a democratic system of government that I found impressive. On the government controlled television station, there were regular features encouraging Ghanaians to become involved politically at a local level and to make a difference in the country with their ideas and their energy. Ghana is held in high esteem by Western governments because of its democratic government, its relative freedom from corruption, and its faithfulness to its debt repayment obligations. Bill Clinton's recent trip to Africa underlined this perception. The West sees Ghanaians as giving a good example - they pay their debts! However, it became clear to me that the Ghanaian economy is in decline. While I was there, electricity was being rationed. We were cut off for a long period each day. Electricity for Ghana is all produced at one source - a dam. Due to a shortage of rainfall and an increase in demand, there is now not enough production for the needs of the economy. What I learned was that the government had offered cheap electricity since the dam was opened, and this had attracted in a multinational aluminium manufacturer which now uses huge amounts. There is resentment among the Ghanaians that the aluminium manufacturer has been given priority over the needs of the people. I can see the possibility of this sort of problem increasing in poor countries worldwide as multinationals continue to gain more power through international agreements and end up holding national governments and peoples to ransom.
In Ghana there is no health subsidy and no social welfare. Sick persons arriving at a hospital must have cash in hand or they will not be admitted. Until now, the government had been spending money on education. Free education was offered right through to university level. Now however the government is planning to cut back, putting its resources into the lower levels and withdrawing financial support for third level. Ghana will soon have the U.S. system where students take out a bank loan to pay their way through college. The Ghanaian government do appear to have made a serious effort to bring water and electricity to all parts of Ghana. We visited the slum area of Nima in Accra during the week where 100,000 people live. But even here, despite the obvious poverty and overcrowding, I was told that the people had water and electricity. In Accra major roadworks are under way, some of them with expensive flyovers and underpasses. However, immediately outside Accra the road surfaces quickly deteriorate and all sideroads that I saw were unsurfaced and extremely uneven.
=46rom my experience of the conference and from watching Ghanaian State television I got a clear impression of a people who are unashamedly religious. On State TV on Easter Sunday night the full thirty minutes of the evening news was taken up with reports from round the country of the religious events marking Easter. Many different Christian denominations were reported on. Similarly, throughout the conference, various religious leaders were invited to lead us in prayer. These included native Ga, Muslim, and a number of Christian denominations. Religious practice of whatever type appeared hugely important to Ghanaians. However, I also got the impression that this practice of religion was used as an emotional support because life was such a struggle and times were so hard. Preachers during the Easter Sunday celebrations again and again mentioned the energy crisis in the country and prayed for rain.
The Africa Jubilee 2000 Conference began with a certain amount of confusion. Efforts to make contact with the organisers beforehand were difficult. Apparently they had telephone problems. The venue was not clear until the last minute. This resulted in the chairperson for the opening session arriving to the wrong place and being one hour late for the start of the conference. Conference activities regularly began one hour late, so the opening session was no exception.
However, I understood quite quickly what a mammoth task it had been to organise a conference aimed at having every African nation represented. I believe that 35 nations were represented amongst an attendance of approximately 250. Certainly, I heard reports and speakers from all parts of Africa. This in itself impressed me. One particular sharing from the leader of the Methodist Church in Sierra Leone struck home. He had begun his working life as a school teacher 27 years ago. Since then he had joined the Methodist ministry and was now the leader of that community. However, today his take home pay is worth less in hard currency than his first week's wages as a teacher 27 years ago. This brought home to me how the economies of African countries are in decline - how the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.
Speaker after speaker spoke of the situation in their own country. Some were angry and passionate, others were almost despairing. I got a picture of the whole of sub-Saharan Africa on its knees, being sucked into a black abyss. There were stories from Rwanda and the Congo of genocide and massive displacement, stories from Angola and Mozambique of people with nothing left after the ravages of war, stories from South Africa of people with hope at last, stories from Nigeria of military dictatorship and massive corruption, stories from Zambia and Tanzania on what it is like to be listed among the poorest countries in the world.
One thing was clear. The African nations see themselves as one people. They were all clearly aware of their African identity and saw the need to unite. Whether this unification comes in the form of an EU style common market or a US style federation or whether it will be an all-African socialist government, as envisaged by Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, remains to be seen.
While the focus of the conference was on setting up an all-Africa campaign to have the unpayable debts of the poorest countries cancelled by the year 2000, I was hoping that I would hear of other ways in which hope was being brought to the people of Africa. In this I was disappointed. Many of the speakers were critical of their own leaders and spoke repeatedly of corruption in high places. There were plenty of facts and figures, statistics on debt in various countries, percentages of export earnings being used to repay the debt, average incomes, mortality rates and life-expectancy figures. But even here, our Swedish delegate commented that he had more information available to him in his own office in Sweden on the debt crisis in Zambia than the Zambian delegates at the conference appeared to have.
What disappointed me was that, while there was some analysis of the effects of colonialism and the colonialist mentality, there was no clear analysis of the economic system we now have, of the threat the multinationals pose, of the uncontrolled movement of capital around the world, of the inexorable shift of power from sovereign governments to unaccountable corporations, or even of the effects of world trade agreements. I did not hear mention at all of the upcoming Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) being negotiated through the OECD. There was barely a mention of the likely effects of bio-patenting and genetic engineering. No-one presented any possibility of an alternative to the Western development model, despite its obvious disastrous results for Africa.
On hindsight, I can see that people immersed in absolute poverty, or war, or suffering under cruel and corrupt dictatorships are not going to be in a position to read, study, discuss and reflect too much. Information available in Europe for example is not as easily available throughout Africa where the media may be State controlled, where books are not available or cannot be afforded, and where Internet access is not yet established for even a sizeable minority. Often it is the outsider looking on in compassion and solidarity who can understand the situation far better than the person in the middle of it.
It may be then that Western NGOs have an important role to play in the re-empowerment of the poorest countries. Coming away from the Ghana conference, our Kairos delegation was clear that we had a role to play in the provision of information, analysis and other supports, including fundraising, for the new Africa 2000 Coalition.
Some other thoughts.
I was struck by the number of young Ghanaians who dreamed of living in Europe. A number of them asked me to get them pen-friends in Ireland, as a first step. Others took my name and address and wanted to visit. Others told me they were planning to study in Europe. From this I gathered that the common perception of young Africans was that Africa had nothing to offer them, and that opportunity awaited them in Europe. This saddened me. For me it meant that Africans had fully taken on board their white oppressors perception of them.
In parallel with this experience, I also experienced being put on a pedestal as a white person. Walking through the markets, I heard people call me 'white man' in their own language and ask me to buy something. While visiting a farm outside Accra with some Ghanaian young people, I suggested that young Europeans would enjoy volunteering to work on a Ghanaian farm in return for bed and food. The young Ghanaian laughed and said he could not imagine a Ghanaian farmer giving orders to a young white person on his farm. It was impossible! "We are used to looking up to the white man". I had hoped that this would be gone from Africa, or at least from Ghana which is free since 1957, but it is not so.
I observed that African nations, like the nations of Eastern Europe, see the Western lifestyle as the one to be longed for, sought after and worked towards. For me this was so disappointing. As one who does not believe in the Western model of development, who believes it is unjust, unsustainable, and intrinsically destructive of people and nature, I had hoped to find allies and kindred spirits among my African brethren. But I did not even find one! This was so disappointing. I neither met nor heard of any person or group in Africa who were proclaiming a return to indigenous values or who were creating an alternative to the dominant model. It is as if the combined effects of colonialism, the world religions, and the western economic system have completely wiped out all opposition.
Another thought. I went to Ghana as an Irishman who knew the power of a diaspora. While only 5 million people live in Ireland, there are up to 70 million people in the world who claim Irish descent. The Irish-American lobby is particularly strong in the States. However, this diaspora caused problems for us when trouble flared up inthe North twenty-five years ago. While Irish people at home were almost 100% against the violent terrorist tactics of the IRA, Irish-Americans in the States were giving the IRA money and other supports. Exiles from Ireland tend to have an image of the country that is fixed at a historic moment - the time they left Ireland, or, even worse, the time their grandparents left Ireland. Irish-Americans visiting Ireland for the first time are often disappointed that there are not more thatched cottages and donkeys-and-carts. They cannot believe the country has become so modern.
However, I have to say, also, that at present the Irish-American lobby has been extremely effective in bringing about and supporting the Peace Process for Northern Ireland. So there are two sides to the coin.
The Africa Jubilee 2000 Conference was organised from Britain by a group from the African diaspora in London with the support of Christian Aid and others in the Jubilee 2000 Coalition. During the Conference there were some moments of tension off-stage between the various elements of the gathering. For an All-African Coalition to work, it has to be centred in Africa with the involvement of resident Africans central to it. However, the British organisers initiated the Conference and wish to see their hopes fulfilled. It would be foolish of them therefore to hand everything over to resident Africans and wash their hands of it. Until every African country has its own Jubilee Coalition and all are involved in the All-Africa Jubilee Coalition, the British organisers need to stay involved at some level.
The Conference ended with a Steering Group being elected. Our own Kairos delegation from Europe played an important role in bringing events to this point. Our Kairos organiser Albert Gyan, himself a Ghanaian now living in Europe, took the chair for the final sessions of the Conference and facilitated a number of meetings of the newly elected Steering Group.
The immediate tasks now are the setting up of a full-time Secretariat in Accra to co-ordinate the building of the Coalition, the raising of funding from the West to finance the venture, and the production of material, a data-base, etc., to service the Coalition. Western NGOs involved in the European Coalition have a key role to play in the provision of funding, information and other supports for this Secretariat.
The African Secretariat is contactable at:
Afrika Campaign, Jubilee 2000 Coalition,
P.O.Box 1938, Tema, Community One, Greater Accra Region, Ghana
Tel.: 233 (21) 500178.
Web site: http://www.jubilee2000uk.org .
The UK Secretariat is:
Jubilee 2000 Coalition,
P.O. Box 100, London SE1 7RT
Tel.: +44 (0)171 401 9999
Fax: +44 (0)171 401 3999
Before the Conference dispersed, lists of names of participants were distributed and some effort was made to establish a list of contact people in each of the participant African countries. Below I give information on some contacts that I myself gathered:
Fr. Aidan c. Dasaah, National Catholic Secretariat
P.O. Box KA 9712, Accra
Tel. 233-021-500 491 / 492
Fr. Aidan is in charge of religious education for the Catholic Church schools throughout all of Ghana. He therefore has access to a wide network of potential campaigners. He is very keen to be involved.
Mr Gregory Baalaboore, St Charles Secondary School
P.O. Box 175, Tamale N/R, Ghana
Tel. House: (071) 23116; Office (071) 23242.
Mr Gregory is a headmaster of the above school and also has access to youth movements.
Emeka Ogazi, co-ordinator, Jubilee 2000 Nigeria
Igwe Matt-Bollins N., Secretary, Jubilee 2000 Nigeria
No. 3 Udude Street Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Nigeria, West Africa.
or c/o Ignatius Unah, Accountant, Ph. 043-20536; 043-20508; 043-21162.
(1) Kairos Europa is a European NGO that networks and co-ordinates organisations and campaigns around various issues of marginalisation. Among its many programmes, it has a programme on Debt. This programme operates a double strategy of: a. information and analysis for those struggling with debt; and b. political campaigning. Other Kairos programmes are: Migration, Youth, Women, Communal Alliances, Micro-Alternatives in Economics, The Spirituality of Solidarity and Resistance, Identity. Kairos has centres in most western European countries and is slowly establishing itself in Central Europe (e.g. Poland, Hungary). It has yet to take root in Eastern Europe. Its European Secretariat is: Kairos Europa, Avenue Parc Royal 3, B-1020 Brussels, Belgium. Tel. +32-2-479-9655; Fax: +32-2-476-0650. E-mail: KAIROS_EJ@compuserve.com .
(2) The AISLING Magazine reproduces the writings and reports on the activities of key people and groups throughout the world who are actively envisioning a wholesome and sustainable future for the world. 'Aisling' means vision in Gaelic and the magazine was established to challenge the dominant model of development and to present an alternative vision. The magazine deals with the debt issue as well as other issues such as: the environment, alternative economics, churches, culture, spirituality, diversity, lifestyle, energy, justice, and genetic engineering. It is produced on the Aran Islands in the west of Ireland. An inspection copy and other information are available from: The AISLING Magazine, Inis Mór, Aran Islands, County Galway, Ireland. Tel: +353-99-61245; Fax: +353-99-61245; E-mail: email@example.com.
Rajinder's report on the Accra Conference
Individual Report of the Kairos Europa Delegation Visit to Jubilee 2000 - Uhuru Resurgence 16-19. April, Accra, Ghana.
By Rajinder Kumar (Birmingham Council of Faiths and Kairos Europa)
The Jubilee 2000 - Uhuru Resurgence conference in Accra marked the launch of the Jubilee 2000 campaign for the continent of Africa and the setting up of a Pan-African steering committee on debt cancellation led by a Jubilee 2000 African Secretariat. The Secretariat will coordinate the Jubilee 2000 campaign beyond the millennium. There was over 100 attendants from 25 African countries, and international observers from Europe, the United States, and Latin America.
All had gathered in the spirit of the conference: hope, freedom, and compelled by an urgency to campaign for the cancellation of unpayable debt owed by Africa to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It had been commented by many of the African delegates that the conference was a unique opportunity for different Africans who were representatives for different grassroots organisations to meet together. Moreover, two African delegates (Igwe Matt Bollins and Emeka Ogazi) had come from Liberia traveling for four days by foot, public transport, hiking, and "sleeping rough" to be present at the conference. The importance of the Jubilee 2000 launch in Africa cannot be stated enough.
'Observations on some Strengths and Weaknesses'
Several papers were presented by various activists, church leaders, debt experts, and members of Non Governmental Organisations across the three days ranging from the historical emergence and consequences of debt from colonialism to the present day. The conference attracted the attention of the national Ghana Television and was featured as the main headline news. However, the absence of local Ghanaian government representatives, and members of the IMF and World Bank was noted.
'The Articulation of Debt with Other Issues'
The issue of debt and its cancellation is extremely important and one that effects us all everywhere, whether directly or indirectly. The cancellation of debt can be seen as threatening as it challenges head on how one's social, cultural, economic, and political advantages in the developed centres of the West are maintained over another's plea for life and dignity in Africa and elsewhere. Whereas a western observer remarked that the cancellation of the debt was the primary and exclusive concern of the conference, many African speakers and respondents from the floor continually stated that the issue of debt and its cancellation should be seen in terms of wider social, cultural and political contexts. This fact was poignantly illustrated on a brief visit to Nima, an inner city district in Accra where the majority of residents are Muslims. The slum conditions of Nima were visible by high levels of unemployment, overcrowded housing, poor sanitation, and a lack of economic development. The slum is further deprived in that the perceptions of each other amongst its Muslim residents, external church leaders and activists in Accra are constrained by histories of Muslim-Christian conflict and misunderstanding. The lack of Muslim and other faith participation in the conference, other than through brief opening prayers, was also apparent. One came away with the impression that the notion of interfaith work relating to debt in the Accra assembly was really about interfaith dialogue and practice between the different Christian denominations. Future Jubilee 2000 gatherings in Africa and elsewhere can only benefit from a more inclusive approach to the understanding of debt and its cancellation as taught through the scriptures from other non-Christian faiths as well.
'The Role of the Diaspora'
The role of Africans, other concerned activists, and supporters of Jubilee 2000 in the Diaspora was welcomed and much appreciated by all the delegates. Those in, and related to, the diaspora will clearly have an important role to play in terms of effective campaigning, mobilising resources, and offering solidarity. However, a number of African delegates warned against the possibility of the emergence of a paternalistic attitude wherein the voices and experiences of the African people could become relegated to the sphere of "spectacle" or "charity". Delegates speaking from this position recognised that in representing themselves as grassroots African activists did not necessarily mean that they were empowered. What they argued for was that their struggles and experiences should be allowed to speak for themselves at every possible moment. The exciting opportunities and tensions that may unfold in the workings between the Diaspora and the continent or country of origin should be critically borne in mind.
'Workshops: Preparing for Practical Action'
On the afternoon of the 18 April four workshops were set up to discuss and implement strategies and ways forward towards effective Pan-African and international campaigning beyond the conference.
1. The ABC of Debt and the HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) Initiative.
2. Handling the Media.
3. The African Agenda (Intervening in Policy).
4. Setting up National Coalitions.
I was involved in the second workshop, Handling the Media, which was facilitated by Sandra Bagenda (Christian Partners Development Agency, Kenya) and Tendai Chikuku (Christian Churches of Southern Africa). This workshop outlined the various mass media available in Africa and how best to use them:
1. Television (State owned, commercial and private, and non-terrestrial channels). The availability of the different mediums of television would vary according to the different national contexts within Africa.
2. The Church Media. This was thought of as perhaps the best possible use of media given the Christian dimension of Jubilee 2000 (e.g. 2000 years since the birth of Jesus Christ and his teachings on the forgiveness of debt).
3. Radio stations on the Mono and FM frequencies.
4. Print Media: including literature, pamphlets, leaflets, posters etc.
5. Popular Mass Media: including oral media, word of mouth, plays, drama, story telling, dance, use of guns/loudspeakers, and music.
6. Leisure: for e.g. creating awareness and campaigning at football stadiums.
A detailed list of the above outlines and proposals has been sent to the African steering committee and Secretariat for debt cancellation. Members of the Media workshop also decided to keep in touch with each other and report the development of the media campaign from our respective organisations in different parts of the world. Possible sources of funding to help propel the media campaign into motion will also be sought by all workshop members and reported to the Secretariat.
'Cape Coast and Elmina Castle'
After the conference a number of the Kairos Europa delegation made a visit along the west coast of Ghana to Cape Coast. Here, the castles of Cape Coast and Elmina, old centres of slave trade across the Atlantic, were visited. This was an emotional and provoking trip as these buildings bear witness to man's inhumanity to man. Ending on a reflective note: whilst the slave trade of people may have ended the issue of debt and the urgent need for its cancellation is a harsh reminder that the neo-colonial chains of economic slavery are still intact. When will these be broken?
April 1998, Rajinder Kumar